WILMINGTON, Del. – In a pastoral letter released Sept. 10, Bishop W. Francis Malooly lays out his hopes and vision for the spiritual renewal of priests in the Diocese of Wilmington during the church’s Year for Priests.
The letter marks the start of nine months of activity in the diocese to observe the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI opened June 19.
The bishop’s letter asks priests to nurture their vocation through personal prayer, retreat time, spiritual reading, continuing formation, fidelity to ministry and priestly fraternity.
A priest, Bishop Malooly said, “experiences Christ’s call to follow him in this unique way, and in answering that call he is called to live, to work, to stand – to be present – in the person of Christ. He doesn1t ‘stand in’ for Christ; by his presence, he makes Christ present.”
Parishioners’ images of God are influenced by their encounters with their priests, he added. “A priest who is welcoming, who is available, who is dependable, who is trustworthy, who is joyful – a priest who knows he is loved by God and who radiates that love in his presence and demeanor – such a priest can bring the light of Christ and the consolation of the Holy Spirit into the darkest corners of human suffering though his gentle and steady presence.”
Such priestly service “requires selflessness, humility and an ever-increasing intimacy with Christ,” Bishop Malooly said.
A Baltimore native, Bishop Malooly served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore from 2001 to 2008.
The bishop included a short summary of the responsibilities priests take on by consecrating their lives to God, things he calls essential to a priest’s holiness:
“They take the state of their own souls – as well as those of their people – very seriously. They are faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours and to the practice of personal prayer, especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. They make time for devotion to Mary, the mother of God. They nourish their minds with spiritual reading and avoid reading and other media that takes their minds away from the things of the Lord. They protect their promise of celibacy like the precious jewel that it is. They engage in good spiritual direction and seek out wise confessors and counselors. They nourish their people, shelter them, protect them: they know their sheep1s names and their sheep recognize their voices.”
If the bar seems high, the bishop wrote, it’s because a priest is to live and act in the person of Jesus Christ.
“At the same time, as I get to know the priests of our diocese and the religious priests who work alongside them, I become more and more convinced that this ideal is being lived out with God’s grace, and I am grateful for the witness and example they give me,” he said.
Bishop Malooly also called on the faithful of the diocese to support priests in prayer and “by loving them with holy affection, by walking with them in their times of difficulty, by rejoicing with them in their successes and by encouraging them to grow more and more in the likeness of Christ.”
Supporting the gift of priesthood begins in each family, the bishop said.
“Parents do their children an unparalleled service by helping them learn how to listen to the many ways God might be calling them,” he said. “Teaching our children to pray, to savor quiet time, to reflect, to listen: these are keys to helping them become aware of and to fulfill their lives’ true purpose.”
To young men considering the priesthood but shying away from its difficulties, Bishop Malooly advises, “If God is calling you, he will provide the grace you need to find joy in priesthood; if he is calling you, you will find in this vocation fulfillment beyond your wildest dreams.
“Priesthood is not without its challenges – but what worthy adventure is without challenges?” he added.
Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year for Priests June 19 by calling the ordained ministry indispensable for the church and the world and saying the church needs holy ministers who “help the faithful experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are convinced witnesses of that love.”